Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is not only a direct prequel to his classic Alien but also shares many similarities with that film, tonally, structurally and thematically. It’s a science fiction film with many horror elements; it’s got a crew of divergent personalities – and an extremely humanoid robot – on a distant planet exploring a potentially unknown life-form; it essentially begins with that crew waking up from extended sleep and eating breakfast; there are aliens, and there are deaths. It’s not as tightly wound, as elementally perfect as Alien was – it’s a weirder, slightly more unwieldy beast, but never less than entertaining.
This time around there are seventeen crew members, although we only focus on about eight of them, so there are vague “others” around who sort of muddy the margins. One of the genius strokes of Alien was its containment – that crew was all we had, and every time one was lost, we knew exactly how many remained. Here, that’s more ambiguous. We have our movie stars, and then there are, essentially, extras to do the more mundane tasks; they’re listed in the credits as “Mechanic 4”, “Archaeological Assistant”, “Mercenary 2”, and the like. Alien, then, was Ten Little Indians, where Prometheus is not.
One thing it is, is astonishingly beautiful. Prometheus is the name of the huge spacecraft taking our crew on its mission (it was Nostromo in Alien) and is a design of wonder. Likewise, the site of the crew’s expedition is beautifully realised. H.R. Giger, who famously created the alien design for Alien, did not work directly on this film, but his inspiration in every area of the film’s design is plainly obvious. This film is very much of the Alien world.
Like the original film, it remains – to its benefit – deliberately bound in time and space. The action, for the most part, takes place over a couple of days, and within Prometheus, the expedition site, and the land between the two. Star Wars or Star Trek, with their wide-ranging explorations of multiple galaxies, this is not. Scott gets us to where he wants us and lets it all happen then and there.
All the cast are good, but Michael Fassbender, as the robot David (not a spoiler – this time you know he’s a robot from the very first minutes) is fantastic and kind of steals the film. It’s the best role in the film, and Fassbender makes a meal of it, imbuing David with multiple layers and shades while also remaining, essentially, “robotic”. It’s a master turn that could even lead to some awards talk. Charlize Theron, as the strait-laced Commander of Prometheus, has a much less interesting role, but she commits to it well (and looks incredible in her space-suit). Noomi Rapace has the lead role of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and she’s very solid; the same can’t be said for her colleague and lover Charlie, played by Logan Marshall-Green, an actor I’ve never encountered before but who, to my mind, looks much more like Network Television than a Ridley Scott Film.
Prometheus comes with hype. It’s not Alien, but very, very few films are. It’s exciting, extremely well made and mysterious. It’s also, at times, very confusing, difficult to follow, and, bizarrely for a Scott film, has a couple of seriously clunky moments. It’s also not particularly scary. But boy, it’s a visual (and aural) feast, and it’s got some Big Ideas, which it goes after with aplomb. Good fun. And – I hate to say this but it’s true – I think I wished I’d chosen to see the 3D version, as I could tell from the 2D version I saw that Ridley was having fun with the added dimension. Maybe I’ll see it again, that way. I won’t be bored.